Madrid, Spain — July 17, 2016

I don’t have much more to write about Zaragoza, because I spent half my time there in bed. I became sick in the stomach the day before yesterday, and I had the sniffles, as I believe I wrote in the last entry. Yesterday I spent all morning in bed sleeping. Although my stomach ache was over, I felt very tired. Today in Madrid, my stomach feels fine, but I still have the sniffles. My energy is back to normal.

One good thing about feeling ill in Zaragoza is that I spent several hours writing the novel that I am supposed to be working on every day. I’m approaching the point where the protagonist has to kill off her aged husband to get his money. Naturally, it has to look like a natural death, a stroke or heart attack. Does anybody have any good ideas as to how she can finish off the poor old geezer?

I tried to check into the hostel where I was booked to stay, but the WiFi was really flaky, and I couldn’t log in. The place was using some service that requires logging in through Facebook and allowing the site to post information to your Facebook page. I was reluctantly willing to do that, but the system kept telling me that my Facebook login was wrong. I could, however, log onto my Facebook page itself.

The clerk at the reservation offered to allow me to log on using her Facebook account, but the system also rejected her credentials. Then the manager was telephoned, and I was asked to talk to him. He went into a long, unconvincing explanation as to why they were using this system and how I might be able to get around the problem by establishing a new Facebook account. I finally told him that they were making things far too complicated. I was on vacation and didn’t want to spend hours trying to do workarounds to get a defective system to work. I walked down the street and checked into a hotel.

Before I left, the person on the phone told me he would charge the first night’s lodging to my credit card. It was a bit of an empty threat, as I had never given the hostel my credit card number.

OK, I’m paying more my last three days in Europe than I had planned, but I have my own room with shower and all the little things a hotel supplies such as smelly shampoo and soap. Oh, and there’s a widescreen TV on which I’m watching today’s stage of the Tour de France out of the corner of my eye as I write. I hope you’ll excuse this long, boring account of my problems to get a bed to sleep in, but keep reading. There may (or may not) be something more interesting farther down the page.

There is something strange hanging on the wall of this hotel room. I can understand the hat, but why three brooms? If I decide to go out tonight, I’ll only need to ride one of them. Maybe the other two are in case I pick up a couple of flying girlfriends while out there gliding over the city. At any rate, whoever set up this room correctly pegged me as an abnormal guest.

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I had my first ride on the an AVE today, the Spanish high-speed rail network. There are faster trains in China, but I believe the AVE is the fastest nationwide train system in operation in Europe. There was a speed indicator in my coach, so I could keep an eye on how rapidly we moving. When our train got up to cruising speed, it ran between 290 and 300 kilometers per hour (180 to 186 miles per hour). The fastest speed I saw was 301 kilometers per hour. Just so you don’t think I’m making this up, here’s a photo of the speed indicator.

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Incidentally, when we were approaching a station, the display would show the next station alternating between Spanish and English (next stop).

I was glad to cover the long distance between Zaragoza and Madrid so quickly, but I can’t say the ride was comfortable. There was a constant slight shaking, which would have made it uncomfortable for me to read. It felt a bit like riding in an airplane through very mild turbulence. I have read that the Chinese have invented an even faster, vibration-free train. Some sort of vibration cancellation would definitely make the AVE more comfortable.

I’m staying near the Puerta del Sol, or door where the sun enters the City of Madrid, which is also the figurative and once the literal center of Spain. I’ve visited it before, and I have to admit that it has nothing special to offer the tourist. I remember visiting it in the 1960s, and there were old people hanging around in the evening exchanging gossip.

There is nothing casual about the Puerta del Sol today. Most people walking through it are in a hurry. If some old person, older than I am that is, were to hobble into the plaza today, that person would probably be mowed down by a large group of tourists blindly following a guide holding a sign to keep the group together.

The roofed structure in the center of the plaza is the entrance to the very large subterranean subway station.

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I also photographed the Puerta del Sol in my book about hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela last summer. I took the train to Madrid after the pilgrimage. More information about the book is available by clicking on the cover image in the left sidebar or by clicking here.

All of the streets that radiated out from Madrid started here when Spain was still a young country. There is an exact spot called Kilometer Zero (Kilómetro Cero) from which all of roads theoretically radiate, and from which their kilometer posts start counting. Not many foreign tourists know about it, because it is not well marked. You have to know where it is to find it. Here it is. I couldn’t get a picture of it without a few Spanish feet in it, as more Spanish parents kept approaching it to show it to their kids. The shadow of a person wearing a big hat and holding a camera belongs to me.

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Because it has so much foot traffic, the Puerta del Sol is the favorite gathering spot for African street vendors. They spread their wares on a blanket whose four corners are attached to cords that the seller holds in his hands (they are all men). If the seller sees the police approach, he yanks the cords, thereby folding the blanket into a sack that he throws over is back as he walks or runs away.

In the following image, the contrast is not good thanks to my simple cell-phone camera, but you’ll notice that all of the street vendors except one are looking in the same direction with their blankets already partially folded. The exception has his bag on his back already and is already starting to leave. All of them did leave up one of the side streets a few seconds later.

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Below I have zoomed in on just what it is that spooked the sellers. A squad car had pulled up onto the sidewalk, and two police officers were preparing to walk toward the vendors. The police don’t really try to catch the vendors. If they caught one, what would they do with him? The police are satisfied to intimidate the sellers into temporarily abandoning the location. A few minutes later, after the police have left, the vendors will have resumed their positions. Both parties to the game know the rules. Make a show of running away when the police approach, and nothing will happen to you.

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This hotel cost me much more than a hostel would have, but I will enjoy sleeping in a room by myself tonight and being able to read in complete privacy. The only gripe I have is that just before the Tour de France stage ended, the TV channel switched to some dumb golf tournament. What kind of people watch golf on TV anyway? Probably the same boring people who play it.

Watching a golf tournament about as exciting as watching grass grow. However, I have read that some scientists put a live video of a field of grass on the Internet, and millions of people worldwide visited the site and stared at the screen for hours. (Before you fact check that statement, I should add that I am sometimes prone to exaggeration.)